Though not his idea, Gillespie open to constable modifications


Sheriff Doug Gillespie doesn’t want to take over Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura’s job. But that doesn’t mean he can’t handle the responsibilities if the county wants to fund the extra personnel.

“Because of concerns the county commissioners have, it’s an appropriate thing for them to look at,” Gillespie said Wednesday in his first extensive interview about the constable’s position.

Then he tossed caution aside. “I wouldn’t have said that a few years ago when it was run by Robert Gronauer.”

Gronauer ran the office from 1999 through 2010, the year Bonaventura defeated him in a three-way Democratic primary.

Gillespie emphasized that the idea of abolishing the Las Vegas constable’s office didn’t originate with him. After the first of the year, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Assistant County Manager Jeff Wells asked to discuss the idea with them.

“They were going to propose an ordinance change to eliminate the office,” he said. “I made it clear it wasn’t a sheriff’s proposal, but if they had concerns about the constable’s office, I’d be at the table to discuss how these duties should be performed in the future.”

Bonaventura, a one-term assemblyman dishonored as the worst freshman legislator in 1993, became constable in January 2011, and a series of controversies have dogged him since.

A video of foul-mouthed deputies went public after it was shot as a potential pilot for a reality show. There have been allegations of sexual harassment against Bonaventura, which he denied. Questions were raised about his hires and some of their dubious backgrounds. Lately, he was arrested and accused of driving under the influence.

Most recently, the county expressed concern that the constable’s office, which had a $7 million surplus when Gronauer left, is losing money, an estimated $600,000 this fiscal year. The county has minimal oversight over Bonaventura’s expenditures.

The ordinance introduced Tuesday to abolish the Las Vegas constable’s job will be heard March 19.

Is it in the best interest of the county and the public to abolish the job?

Gillespie said that is the county commissioners’ call. But he agreed the office should be looked at because of the accusations made.

“It’s not fair to the office if the county doesn’t take a closer look at it. There are too many things out there, and it would be inappropriate for some of those questions not to be asked of him and answered by him,” the sheriff said of Bonaventura.

The constable’s office serves legal papers, including wage garnishments and evictions. Bonaventura is paid $100,000, but the 25 deputies get paid from fees from their efforts. The office has 60 employees.

Privatization should be considered, Gillespie said. He wouldn’t want the eviction work privatized because of potential dangers. The sheriff’s civil division serves legal papers, including temporary restraining orders, stalking and harassment orders, small claims affidavits, bench warrants, subpoenas and warrants.

In Washoe County, constables were abolished. Some duties were privatized. Others were absorbed by the sheriff’s office. Gillespie and county officials traveled to Washoe County to see how Sheriff Michael Haley copes without constables.

Apparently, it’s possible.

Gillespie and county officials can figure out how to do it efficiently. Or perhaps the job should be an appointed position, and hiring standards besides cronyism could be established.

Gillespie hasn’t talked with legislators about a proposal to abolish all 14 constables statewide, including all 11 in Clark County.

Bonaventura seems likely to go down as a one-term constable. The county commissioners seem receptive, as do legislative leaders. He wants to run the office his way without any accountability, except to voters who rarely pay attention to this low-profile but high-paying political job.

This embarrassment of a peace officer needs to go. The only real question is whether all constable jobs should go, too.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison.